Zionism Laid Bare

The essential point of M. Shahid Alam’s book, Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism, comes clear upon opening the book to the inscription in the frontispiece.  From the Persian poet and philosopher Rumi, the quote reads, “You have the light, but you have no humanity.  Seek humanity, for that is the goal.” Alam, professor of economics at Northeastern University in Boston and a CounterPunch contributor, follows this with an explicit statement of his aims in the first paragraph of the preface.  Asking and answering the obvious question, “Why is an economist writing a book on the geopolitics of Zionism?” he says that he “could have written a book about the economics of Zionism, the Israeli economy, or the economy of the West Bank and Gaza, but how would any of that have helped me to understand the cold logic and the deep passions that have driven Zionism?”

Until recent years, the notion that Zionism was a benign, indeed a humanitarian, political movement designed for the noble purpose of creating a homeland and refuge for the world’s stateless, persecuted Jews was a virtually universal assumption.  In the last few years, particularly since the start of the al-Aqsa intifada in 2000, as Israel’s harsh oppression of the Palestinians has become more widely known, a great many Israelis and friends of Israel have begun to distance themselves from and criticize Israel’s occupation policies, but they remain strong Zionists and have been at pains to propound the view that Zionism began well and has only lately been corrupted by the occupation. Alam demonstrates clearly, through voluminous evidence and a carefully argued analysis, that Zionism was never benign, never good—that from the very beginning, it operated according to a “cold logic” and, per Rumi, had “no humanity.”  Except perhaps for Jews, which is where Israel’s and Zionism’s exceptionalism comes in.

Alam argues convincingly that Zionism was a coldly cynical movement from its beginnings in the nineteenth century.  Not only did the founders of Zionism know that the land on which they set their sights was not an empty land, but they set out specifically to establish an “exclusionary colonialism” that had no room for the Palestinians who lived there or for any non-Jews, and they did this in ways that justified, and induced the West to accept, the displacement of the Palestinian population that stood in their way.  With a simple wisdom that still escapes most analysts of Israel and Zionism, Alam writes that a “homeless nationalism,” as Zionism was for more than half a century until the state of Israel was established in 1948, “of necessity is a charter for conquest and—if it is exclusionary—for ethnic cleansing.”

How has Zionism been able to put itself forward as exceptional and get away with it, winning Western support for the establishment of an exclusionary state and in the process for the deliberate dispossession of the native population? Alam lays out three principal ways by which Zionism has framed its claims of exceptionalism in order to justify itself and gain world, particularly Western, support.  First, the Jewish assumption of chosenness rests on the notion that Jews have a divine right to the land, a mandate granted by God to the Jewish people and only to them.  This divine election gives the homeless, long-persecuted Jews the historical and legal basis by which to nullify the rights of Palestinians not so divinely mandated and ultimately to expel them from the land.  Second, Israel’s often remarkable achievements in state-building have won Western support and provided a further justification for the displacement of “inferior” Palestinians by “superior” Jews.  Finally, Zionism has put Jews forward as having a uniquely tragic history and as a uniquely vulnerable country, giving Israel a special rationale for protecting itself against supposedly unique threats to its existence and in consequence for ignoring the dictates of international law.  Against the Jews’ tragedy, whatever pain Palestinians may feel at being displaced appears minor.

The ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians that came as the result of Zionism’s need for an exclusivist homeland was no unfortunate consequence, and indeed had long been foreseen by Zionist thinkers and the Western leaders who supported them.  Alam quotes early Zionists, including Theodore Herzl, who talked repeatedly of persuading the Palestinians “to trek,” or “fold their tents,” or “silently steal away.”  In later years, the Zionists spoke of forcible “transfer” of the Palestinians. In the 1930s, David Ben-Gurion expressed his strong support for compulsory transfer, crowing that “Jewish power” was growing to the point that the Jewish community in Palestine would soon be strong enough to carry out ethnic cleansing on a large scale (as it ultimately did).  In fact, the Zionists knew from the start that there would be no persuading the Palestinians simply to leave voluntarily and that violent conquest would be necessary to implant the Zionist state.

The British knew this as well.  Zionist supporter Winston Churchill wrote as early as 1919 that the Zionists “take it for granted that the local population will be cleared out to suit their convenience.” In a blunt affirmation of the calculated nature of Zionist plans and Western support for them, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, like Churchill another early supporter and also author of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which promised British support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, wrote that Zionism “is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”  It would be hard to find a more blatant one-sided falsity.

Alam traces in detail the progression of Zionist planning, beginning with the deliberate creation in the nineteenth century of an ethnic identity for Jews who shared only a religion and had none of the attributes of nationhood—neither a land, nor a common language or culture, nor arguably a common gene pool. Here Alam covers briefly the ground trod in detail by Israeli historian Shlomo Sand, whose book The Invention of the Jewish People, appearing in English just months before Alam’s book, shattered the myths surrounding Zionism’s claim to nationhood and to an exclusive right to Palestine.  But Alam goes further, describing the Zionist campaign to create a surrogate “mother country” that, in the absence of a Jewish nation, would sponsor the Zionists’ colonization of Palestine and support its national project.  Having gained British support for its enterprise, Zionism then set about building a rationale for displacing the Palestinian Arabs who were native to Palestine (who, incidentally, did indeed possess the attributes of a nation but lay in the path of a growing Jewish, Western-supported military machine).  Zionist propaganda then and later deliberately spread the notion that Palestinians were not “a people,” had no attachment to the land and no national aspirations, and in the face of the Jews’ supposedly divine mandate, of Israel’s “miraculous” accomplishments, and of the Jews’ monumental suffering in the Holocaust, the dispossession of the Palestinians was made to appear to a disinterested West as nothing more than a minor misfortune.

Addressing what he calls the “destabilizing logic” of Zionism, Alam builds the argument that Zionism thrives on, and indeed can survive only in the midst of, conflict. In the first instance, Alam shows, Zionism actually embraced the European anti-Semitic charge that Jews were an alien people.  This was the natural result of promoting the idea that Jews actually belonged in Palestine in a nation of their own, and in addition, spreading fear of anti-Semitism proved to be an effective way to attract Jews not swayed by the arguments of Zionism (who made up the majority of Jews in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) to the Zionist cause.  Early Zionist leaders talked frankly of anti-Semitism as a means of teaching many educated and assimilated Jews “the way back to their people” and of forcing an allegiance to Zionism.  Anti-Semitism remains in many ways the cement that holds Zionism together, keeping both Israeli Jews and diaspora Jews in thrall to Israel as their supposedly only salvation from another Holocaust.

In the same vein, Alam contends, Zionists realized that in order to succeed in their colonial enterprise and maintain the support of the West, they would have to create an adversary common to both the West and the Jews.  Only a Jewish state waging wars in the Middle East could “energize the West’s crusader mentality, its evangelical zeal, its dreams of end times, its imperial ambitions.” Arabs were the initial and enduring enemy, and Zionists and Israel have continued to provoke Arab antagonism and direct it toward radicalism, to steer Arab anger against the United States, to provoke the Arabs into wars against Israel, and to manufacture stories of virulent Arab anti-Semitism—all specifically in order to sustain Jewish and Western solidarity with Israel.  More recently, Islam itself has become the common enemy, an adversary fashioned so that what Alam calls the “Jewish-Gentile partnership” can be justified and intensified.  Focusing on Arab and Muslim hostility, always portrayed as motivated by irrational hatred rather than by opposition to Israeli and U.S. policies, allows Zionists to divert attention from their own expropriation of Palestinian land and dispossession of Palestinians and allows them to characterize Israeli actions as self-defense against anti-Semitic Arab and Muslim resistance.

Alam treats the Zionist/Israel lobby as a vital cog in the machine that built and sustains the Jewish state.  Indeed, Theodore Herzl was the original Zionist lobbyist.  During the eight years between the launch of the Zionist movement at Basel in 1897 and his death, Herzl had meetings with a remarkable array of power brokers in Europe and the Middle East, including the Ottoman sultan, Kaiser Wilhelm II, King Victor Emanuel III of Italy, Pope Pius X, the noted British imperialist Lord Cromer and the British colonial secretary of the day, and the Russian ministers of interior and finance, as well as a long list of dukes, ambassadors, and lesser ministers.  One historian used the term “miraculous” to describe Herzl’s ability to secure audiences with the powerful who could help Zionism.

Zionist lobbyists continued to work as assiduously, with results as “miraculous,” throughout the twentieth century, gaining influence over civil society and ultimately over policymakers and, most importantly, shaping the public discourse that determines all thinking about Israel and its neighbors.  As Alam notes, “since their earliest days, the Zionists have created the organizations, allies, networks, and ideas that would translate into media, congressional, and presidential support for the Zionist project.”  An increasing proportion of the activists who lead major elements of civil society, such as the labor and civil rights movements, are Jews, and these movements have as a natural consequence come to embrace Zionist aims.  Christian fundamentalists, who in the last few decades have provided massive support to Israel and its expansionist policies, grew in the first instance because they were “energized by every Zionist success on the ground” and have continued to expand with a considerable lobbying push from the Zionists.

Alam’s conclusion—a direct argument against those who contend that the lobby has only limited influence: “It makes little sense,” in view of the pervasiveness of Zionist influence over civil society and political discourse, “to maintain that the pro-Israeli positions of mainstream American organizations . . . emerged independently of the activism of the American Jewish community.”  In its early days, Zionism grew only because Herzl and his colleagues employed heavy lobbying in the European centers of power; Jewish dispersion across the Western world—and Jewish influence in the economies, the film industries, the media, and academia in key Western countries—are what enabled the Zionist movement to survive and thrive in the dark years of the early twentieth century; and Zionist lobbying and molding of public discourse are what has maintained Israel’s favored place in the hearts and minds of Americans and the policy councils of America’s politicians.

This is a critically important book.  It enhances and expands on the groundbreaking message of Shlomo Sand’s work.  If Sand shows that Jews were not “a people” until Zionism created them as such, Alam shows this also and goes well beyond to show how Zionism and its manufactured “nation” went about dispossessing and replacing the Palestinians and winning all-important Western support for Israel and its now 60-year-old “exclusionary colonialism.”

Ref: counterpunch

Kathleen Christison is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and the Wound of Dispossession and co-author, with Bill Christison, of Palestine in Pieces: Graphic Perspectives on the Israeli Occupation, published last summer by Pluto Press.  She can be reached at kb.christison@earthlink.net.

VIDEO: Gilad Atzmon – Jewish angst needs enemies + Shlomo Sand: ‘There are Israeli, not Jewish people’


Shlomo Sand: ‘There are Israeli, not Jewish people’

Jews living in Tel Aviv, New York or Moscow do not share the same secular practices and language and thus cannot be called one people, says Professor Shlomo Sand.

Israel deliberately forgets its history – A MUST READ!!!

An Israeli historian suggests the diaspora was the consequence, not of the expulsion of the Hebrews from Palestine, but of proselytising across north Africa, southern Europe and the Middle East

Every Israeli knows that he or she is the direct and exclusive descendant of a Jewish people which has existed since it received the Torah (1) in Sinai. According to this myth, the Jews escaped from Egypt and settled in the Promised Land, where they built the glorious kingdom of David and Solomon, which subsequently split into the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. They experienced two exiles: after the destruction of the first temple, in the 6th century BC, and of the second temple, in 70 AD.

Two thousand years of wandering brought the Jews to Yemen, Morocco, Spain, Germany, Poland and deep into Russia. But, the story goes, they always managed to preserve blood links between their scattered communities. Their uniqueness was never compromised.

At the end of the 19th century conditions began to favour their return to their ancient homeland. If it had not been for the Nazi genocide, millions of Jews would have fulfilled the dream of 20 centuries and repopulated Eretz Israel, the biblical land of Israel. Palestine, a virgin land, had been waiting for its original inhabitants to return and awaken it. It belonged to the Jews, rather than to an Arab minority that had no history and had arrived there by chance. The wars in which the wandering people reconquered their land were just; the violent opposition of the local population was criminal.

This interpretation of Jewish history was developed as talented, imaginative historians built on surviving fragments of Jewish and Christian religious memory to construct a continuous genealogy for the Jewish people. Judaism’s abundant historiography encompasses many different approaches.

But none have ever questioned the basic concepts developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Discoveries that might threaten this picture of a linear past were marginalised. The national imperative rejected any contradiction of or deviation from the dominant story. University departments exclusively devoted to “the history of the Jewish people”, as distinct from those teaching what is known in Israel as general history, made a significant contribution to this selective vision. The debate on what constitutes Jewishness has obvious legal implications, but historians ignored it: as far as they are concerned, any descendant of the people forced into exile 2,000 years ago is a Jew.

Nor did these official investigators of the past join the controversy provoked by the “new historians” from the late 1980s. Most of the limited number of participants in this public debate were from other disciplines or non-academic circles: sociologists, orientalists, linguists, geographers, political scientists, literary academics and archaeologists developed new perspectives on the Jewish and Zionist past. Departments of Jewish history remained defensive and conservative, basing themselves on received ideas. While there have been few significant developments in national history over the past 60 years (a situation unlikely to change in the short term), the facts that have emerged face any honest historian with fundamental questions.

Founding myths shaken

Is the Bible a historical text? Writing during the early half of the 19th century, the first modern Jewish historians, such as Isaak Markus Jost (1793-1860) and Leopold Zunz (1794-1886), did not think so. They regarded the Old Testament as a theological work reflecting the beliefs of Jewish religious communities after the destruction of the first temple. It was not until the second half of the century that Heinrich Graetz (1817-91) and others developed a “national” vision of the Bible and transformed Abraham’s journey to Canaan, the flight from Egypt and the united kingdom of David and Solomon into an authentic national past. By constant repetition, Zionist historians have subsequently turned these Biblical “truths” into the basis of national education.

But during the 1980s an earthquake shook these founding myths. The discoveries made by the “new archaeology” discredited a great exodus in the 13th century BC. Moses could not have led the Hebrews out of Egypt into the Promised Land, for the good reason that the latter was Egyptian territory at the time. And there is no trace of either a slave revolt against the pharaonic empire or of a sudden conquest of Canaan by outsiders.

Nor is there any trace or memory of the magnificent kingdom of David and Solomon. Recent discoveries point to the existence, at the time, of two small kingdoms: Israel, the more powerful, and Judah, the future Judea. The general population of Judah did not go into 6th century BC exile: only its political and intellectual elite were forced to settle in Babylon. This decisive encounter with Persian religion gave birth to Jewish monotheism.

Then there is the question of the exile of 70 AD. There has been no real research into this turning point in Jewish history, the cause of the diaspora. And for a simple reason: the Romans never exiled any nation from anywhere on the eastern seaboard of the Mediterranean. Apart from enslaved prisoners, the population of Judea continued to live on their lands, even after the destruction of the second temple. Some converted to Christianity in the 4th century, while the majority embraced Islam during the 7th century Arab conquest.

Most Zionist thinkers were aware of this: Yitzhak Ben Zvi, later president of Israel, and David Ben Gurion, its first prime minister, accepted it as late as 1929, the year of the great Palestinian revolt. Both stated on several occasions that the peasants of Palestine were the descendants of the inhabitants of ancient Judea (2).

Proselytising zeal

But if there was no exile after 70 AD, where did all the Jews who have populated the Mediterranean since antiquity come from? The smokescreen of national historiography hides an astonishing reality. From the Maccabean revolt of the mid-2nd century BC to the Bar Kokhba revolt of the 2nd century AD, Judaism was the most actively proselytising religion. The Judeo-Hellenic Hasmoneans forcibly converted the Idumeans of southern Judea and the Itureans of Galilee and incorporated them into the people of Israel. Judaism spread across the Middle East and round the Mediterranean. The 1st century AD saw the emergence in modern Kurdistan of the Jewish kingdom of Adiabene, just one of many that converted.

The writings of Flavius Josephus are not the only evidence of the proselytising zeal of the Jews. Horace, Seneca, Juvenal and Tacitus were among the Roman writers who feared it. The Mishnah and the Talmud (3) authorised conversion, even if the wise men of the Talmudic tradition expressed reservations in the face of the mounting pressure from Christianity.

Although the early 4th century triumph of Christianity did not mark the end of Jewish expansion, it relegated Jewish proselytism to the margins of the Christian cultural world. During the 5th century, in modern Yemen, a vigorous Jewish kingdom emerged in Himyar, whose descendants preserved their faith through the Islamic conquest and down to the present day. Arab chronicles tell of the existence, during the 7th century, of Judaised Berber tribes; and at the end of the century the legendary Jewish queen Dihya contested the Arab advance into northwest Africa. Jewish Berbers participated in the conquest of the Iberian peninsula and helped establish the unique symbiosis between Jews and Muslims that characterised Hispano-Arabic culture.

The most significant mass conversion occurred in the 8th century, in the massive Khazar kingdom between the Black and Caspian seas. The expansion of Judaism from the Caucasus into modern Ukraine created a multiplicity of communities, many of which retreated from the 13th century Mongol invasions into eastern Europe. There, with Jews from the Slavic lands to the south and from what is now modern Germany, they formed the basis of Yiddish culture (4).

Prism of Zionism

Until about 1960 the complex origins of the Jewish people were more or less reluctantly acknowledged by Zionist historiography. But thereafter they were marginalised and finally erased from Israeli public memory. The Israeli forces who seized Jerusalem in 1967 believed themselves to be the direct descendents of the mythic kingdom of David rather than – God forbid – of Berber warriors or Khazar horsemen. The Jews claimed to constitute a specific ethnic group that had returned to Jerusalem, its capital, from 2,000 years of exile and wandering.

This monolithic, linear edifice is supposed to be supported by biology as well as history. Since the 1970s supposedly scientific research, carried out in Israel, has desperately striven to demonstrate that Jews throughout the world are closely genetically related.

Research into the origins of populations now constitutes a legitimate and popular field in molecular biology and the male Y chromosome has been accorded honoured status in the frenzied search for the unique origin of the “chosen people”. The problem is that this historical fantasy has come to underpin the politics of identity of the state 
of Israel. By validating an essentialist, 
ethnocentric definition of Judaism it encourages a segregation that separates Jews from non-Jews – whether Arabs, Russian immigrants or foreign workers.

Sixty years after its foundation, Israel refuses to accept that it should exist for the sake of its citizens. For almost a quarter of the population, who are not regarded as Jews, this is not their state legally. At the same time, Israel presents itself as the homeland of Jews throughout the world, even if these are no longer persecuted refugees, but the full and equal citizens of other countries.

A global ethnocracy invokes the myth of the eternal nation, reconstituted on the land of its ancestors, to justify internal discrimination against its own citizens. It will remain difficult to imagine a new Jewish history while the prism of Zionism continues to fragment everything into an ethnocentric spectrum. But Jews worldwide have always tended to form religious communities, usually by conversion; they cannot be said to share an ethnicity derived from a unique origin and displaced over 20 centuries of wandering.

The development of historiography and the evolution of modernity were consequences of the invention of the nation state, which preoccupied millions during the 19th and 20th centuries. The new millennium has seen these dreams begin to shatter.

And more and more academics are analysing, dissecting and deconstructing the great national stories, especially the myths of common origin so dear to chroniclers of the past.

Ref: Le Monde
Shlomo Sand is professor of history at Tel Aviv university and the author of Comment le people juif fut inventé (Fayard, Paris, 2008)

Also read “are-the-jews-an-invented-people” by Shlomo Sand

(1) The Torah, from the Hebrew root yara (to teach) is the founding text of Judaism. It consists of the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

(2) See David Ben Gurion and Yitzhak Ben Zvi, Eretz Israel in the past and present, 1918 (in Yiddish), and Jerusalem, 1980 (in Hebrew); Yitzhak Ben Zvi, Our population in the country, Executive Committee of the Union for Youth and the Jewish National Fund, Warsaw, 1929 (in Hebrew).

(3) The Mishnah, regarded as the first work of rabbinic literature, was drawn up around 200 AD. The Talmud is a synthesis of rabbinic discussions on the law, customs and history of the Jews. The Palestinian Talmud was written between the 3rd and 5th centuries; the Babylonian Talmud was compiled at the end of the 5th century.

(4) Yiddish, spoken by the Jews of eastern Europe, was a Germano-Slavic language incorporating Hebrew words.

Are the Jews an invented people?

How the Jewish people were invented, from the Bible to Zionism is the provocative title of the most recent book to be published in Israel by Shlomo Sand, a professor at Tel Aviv University (forthcoming in French with Fayard). Sand, one of the “new” historians, attacks what he calls the myth that the Jews are the descendants of the Hebrews, exiled from the kingdom of Judaea. He has attempted to show that the Jews are neither a race nor a nation, but ancient pagans – in the main Berbers from North Africa, Arabs from the south of Arabia, and Turks from the Khazar empire – who converted to Judaism between the fourth and eighth centuries CE. According to Sand, the Palestinians are probably descended from Hebrews who embraced Islam or Christianity.

Sand doesn’t challenge Israel’s right to exist or the notion of its sovereignty, but he thinks that sovereignty is undermined by its exclusively ethnic base, which stems from the racism of Zionist ideologues. In other words, Israel shouldn’t be a Jewish state, but a democratic secular one which belongs to all its citizens.

Quoted in Haaretz on 21 March 2008, Sand was pessimistic about how his work would be received in Israel: “There was a time when anyone who claimed that the Jews had a pagan ancestry was accused on the spot of being an anti-semite. Today, anyone who dares suggest that the Jews have never been and still are not a people or a nation is immediately denounced as an enemy of the state of Israel.”

Sand may be mistaken. A no less challenging work which presents the Torah as in large part a collection of myths and legends, has been well received by the Israeli media and in secular circles.

In their book The Bible Unearthed, two eminent Israeli archaeologists, Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, present an argument based on excavations and ancient documents which calls into question long-cherished convictions.

Israeli society may be more receptive to challenging questions than it is given credit for.

Ref: Le Monde, By Eric Rouleau

Also read: death-of-a-myth

and the MUST READ israel-deliberately-forgets-its-history-a-must-read